Communities of color promote plan for San Gabriels
|From left, Sierra Club organizer Byron Gudiel, Azusa School Board President Xilonin Cruz, and Sierra Club organizer Jasmin Vargas.|
This summer, the Sierra Club hosted an event in Azusa to introduce the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign to community members who live south of the mountains.
“Azusa is the gateway city to the San Gabriels” says Sierra Club organizer Juana Torres. “We had a very successful event, conducted in English and Spanish, and both area residents and local elected officials were in attendance.”
The Sierra Club’s San Gabriel Mountains Campaign has been seeking to permanently protect wild places and scenic rivers in the San Gabriels, the recreational “backyard” for 17 million Southern Californians.
Club organizer Jasmin Vargas has been doing extensive public outreach in the foothill communities. “The people we invited to the June 30 event are mostly from communities of color that are socio-economically underserved,” she says. “They use the San Gabriels for recreation, but they haven’t been organized per se in making their experience there a better one.”
The proceedings opened with people sharing their favorite places in the local mountains. Torres, Vargas, and campaign manager Byron Gudiel spoke about the opportunities and challenges in the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests, where the San Gabriels are located, and presented the Sierra Club’s vision for the range. The audience then split up into groups to discuss ways they could get involved and what their personal commitment would be.
The Sierra Club is a founding member of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a coalition of community, faith, social justice and environmental groups working to preserve what many consider to be Southern California’s most scenic and most valuable natural resource. The San Gabriels, which comprise 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and supply one-third of the county’s water, receive some 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.’s Latino community.
There are currently five wilderness areas in the San Gabriels, and the Club, along with San Gabriel Mountains Forever, is seeking to protect an additional 36,000 acres as wilderness and designate five waterways as National Wild & Scenic Rivers. U.S. Representatives David Drier (R-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have been champions of the San Gabriels in Congress.
Ultimately, the Club’s vision for the San Gabriels is to get the range designated as a national recreation area. The mountains contain some of the most beloved recreation areas in L.A. County, but they suffer from inadequate maintenance and services. Restrooms and picnic tables are scarce, few Forest Service employees speak Spanish, and there is no real visitor center or significant investment in stewardship or educational services. Designating a national recreation area would address these shortcomings.
To get involved, join the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign by going online.